Luis Suarez has been the difference between the top 4 this season. Whilst Liverpool pundits and fans will say ‘Suarez has been shown he made the right decision by staying’ you feel that whoever he played for this season would go on to win the league. Despite missing the first 5 games of the league campaign, he has scored 30 goals;
Suarez – 30
Aguero – 16
Giroud – 14
Eto’o – 9
In Sergio Aguero, Manchester City have a striker equal to Luis Suarez. However, he has played just 20 league games this season. Suarez, despite his ban, has still played 30. Would things have been different in Aguero had stayed fit?
As for Arsenal and Chelsea, they do not have a striker of Suarez (or Aguero’s) ability.
Olivier Giroud is not fit to lace Suarez’s boots, hence the pursuit of the Uruguayan in the summer. 14 goals this season, even if you add in contributions from Bendtner (2) and Sanogo (0), the combined goals from Arsenal strikers is less than what Suarez has scored. It is clearly a weak spot.
Chelsea is a strange one. They have a £50m striker in Torres, a 150k a week striker in Eto’o and Demba Ba, a striker who before joining Chelsea had a 1 in 2 strike rate in the Premier League. those 3 combined, this season, have scored 17 goals. Less than Suarez. Would things have been different had they kept Sturridge (20) and Lukaku (13)?
As for Daniel Sturridge, he has also been a massive difference. At 20 league goals this season, he is the leagues 2nd top scorer, and has also scored more goals than Chelsea and Arsenal’s strikers. His back up to Suarez has been a key factor. Whilst City might have the big money strikers at back up (Dzeko, Negrado, Jovetic) Sturridge has been a class above.
Luis Suarez (with a little help from Sturridge) is the main difference in this seasons title race.
Injuries have also been a key factor in the title race. Liverpool have suffered some long term injuries (Lucas & Enrique), these have not been to key squad members. Their 5 important players (Skrtel, Gerrard, Coutinho, Sturridge & Suarez) have barely missed a game between them through injury, with Sturridge being the only significant player to miss games (9) out of the 5.
Meanwhile, Arsenal have been without Theo Walcott (22), Aaron Ramsey (14), Jack Wilshere (12) & Mesut Ozil (10). Only Per Mertesacker, of Arsenal’s ‘important 5’ has stayed injury free.
Over at Manchester City, things have been just as bad. Vincent Kompany (20), Sergio Aguero (14) & David Silva (10) have all missed a big chunk of the season. Whilst Yaya Toure had been injury free, his injury against Liverpool has come just as the title race is hotting up. There ongoing troubles at centre back have also caused big problems.
Only Chelsea have stayed relatively injury free this season. With Eden Hazard being the only one of their top names to pick up an injury. He has only actually missed 2 games, so Chelsea do not really have injuries as an excuse for them not being top of the table.
Now the cause of the injuries is up for debate. Arsenal, for a long time, have had their season’s curtailed by injuries. Whilst Sergio Aguero, over the last 2 years, has been hampered by hamstring injuries, and even Kompany is now in his 3rd season of injury problems. Liverpool have perhaps shown the importance of buying fit players, meaning that you can carry a smaller squad.
The Arsenal squad is stronger and better than Liverpool. However, once you take out the ‘forever injured’ players (Diaby, Rosicky, Sanogo, Wilshere, Ramsey, Walcott) it becomes weakened.
Liverpool not playing Champions League football is also key, giving them 7 days between games to allow players to return from injury. A lot of the Arsenal injuries (Ramsey, Ozil) have come from over playing. With Arsenal (and City) having played 15 games more than Liverpool, this is a key factor when it comes down to injuries.
Whether it is down to games played, personnel, or Liverpool simply having a better medical team, the way they have managed their key players through fairly unscathed this season is a key factor as to why they sit top.
It has often been said recently that a captain in football does little more than call heads or tails. With teams often picking their best player (Henry, Cesc) or their longest serving player (Giggs) rather than their most influential leader as their captain, it perhaps highlights the devaluing in the role.
This season, Steven Gerrard has bucked the trend. He has shown what a well respected, motivational leader can bring to the team. Whilst his huddle at the end of the Manchester City game might have been a tad cringe worthy, it showed leadership. He should have been made England captain when John Terry was originally stripped of the captaincy. He is a brilliant leader.
Meanwhile, over at Manchester City, they have Vincent Kompany. Not a natural captain, he shows very little leadership on the pitch. With him having a game which does produce mistakes, you feel sometimes him having to think about captaining the side as well messes his head up. He is not a natural leader.
Arsenal’s situation is even worse. Their captain does not even play. And in most people’s strongest Arsenal XI, the vice-captain would not either. Many argue that Per Mertesacker should have been handed the armband months ago. Hopefully this change happens in the summer. He, like Gerrard, is a leader of men.
Chelsea do have a Gerrard like character in John Terry. He is also a motivator, a leader, and has had a brilliant season this year, leading to many calls that he should return to the England fold.
Steven Gerrard has been a massive difference this year.
Liverpool have had a lot go in their way this season. Penalties (12 and counting) & not playing European football are two key factors. But the 3 main factors are of their own doing. Having 2 top strikers, staying away from injuries and Steven Gerrard are the main reasons why they are top.
Arsenal and Manchester City can point to a lot of mitigating circumstances as to why they are not top, but they are often problems of their own making (both have a lot of injury prone players, neither has a decent captain, Arsenal need to spend). Chelsea, meanwhile, only have themselves to blame. Bar a top striker, they have not suffered many problems this season. They have the players, they have not had the injuries, they have the captain. Maybe it is a case of their manager’s star is now dwindling? Is Mourinho starting to become a specialist in failure? Why did they sell Juan Mata?
In cycling, David Brailsford has a 1% theory whereas you do not improve 1 thing by 100% but 100 things by 1%. Marginal gains. In Luis Suarez, in the injuries, in Steven Gerrard, Liverpool have these marginal gains over their opponents, and it is these marginal gains which currently define the title race.